A new tour is set to launch in Anwoth just in time for The Wicker Man’s 50th anniversary weekend. Presented by award-winning storytellers and tour creators – Mostly Ghostly – Tombs n’ Tales of Old Anwoth debuts on Saturday 29th April with a second tour planned for Monday 1st May. The tour, which marks this major milestone for cult classic The Wicker Man, features one of its most celebrated and evocative filming locations – Anwoth Old Kirk and graveyard. Much of the film was shot in Dumfries and Galloway, with Anwoth best remembered for its graveyard and maypole scenes, including the imposing Gordon Tomb and its iconic grinning skull. Just across the road, stands the charming Old Schoolhouse, which was used for interior and exterior shots.
Telling us more about the tour, Mostly Ghostly Founder Kathleen Cronie enthused:
“We’re delighted to be launching a new tour at Anwoth Old Kirk in this, The Wicker Man’s 50th anniversary year. The kirk is steeped in history; its surrounding churchyard a fascinating library of life stories, honouring love, loss, triumph and tragedy. Our tour will weave together episodes from the area’s rich past; blending history and folklore, culture and tradition, amidst this dreamily atmospheric setting.”
The team hope to attract a wide range of guests, both film fans, and those who simply want to experience the area’s history, Kathleen continues:
“We’re excited at the prospect of welcoming our first guests, where they will discover intriguing, and at times, poignant, stories secreted within this peaceful locale. For any Wicker Man fans drawn by the film, we hope to connect them with lesser-known elements of the site, immersing visitors in layers of history, folklore, outstanding folk art and of course, a collection of anecdotes and reflections from the movie.”
A church at Anwoth was first mentioned in the 12th century, when it was granted to Holyrood Abbey. The old kirk was built in 1626, however the keen eyed will spot an inscription bearing the date 1627 – the year Samuel Rutherford became its first minister.
So, what can guests discover on the new Tombs n’ Tales tour? The story of Samuel Rutherford, whose imposing monument overlooks the kirk from nearby Boreland Hill, will feature prominently, alongside episodes of The Killing Times, a notorious period in Scotland’s past that witnessed the persecution of The Covenanters, a religious movement who opposed the interference of the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
The team will also reveal funerary customs and fascinating discoveries, including an ancient cross and ‘witch stone’, the latter now in the care of Stewartry Museum. The graveyard contains frequent reminders of tragedy, with many stones detailing the heart-breaking toll of infant and child mortality, while others remember longevity, with at least two of Anwoth’s silent inhabitants exceeding the age of one hundred years. The team will uncover some of these profoundly moving stories, highlighting examples of folk art and the meanings behind gravestone symbolism.
“There is clearly a great deal of interest in the history surrounding churchyards, not only in those who rest there, but also the rich array of monumental sculptures and skilful carvings displayed on the stones. The Gordon Tomb, which famously featured in the movie, is adorned with magnificent art, most notably its projecting death’s head, complete with stony grin.”
And is there anything of a more otherworldly nature linked to Anwoth? Team Member John Hill whets our appetites:
“Recently, a story came to light, shared by a previous resident of the Old Schoolhouse, who witnessed an immaculately dressed gentleman ‘gliding’ along the church wall. The witness has offered to share his compelling first-hand experience with guests, which we’re really looking forward to, and appreciate the kind support.”
Giving her thoughts on Anwoth and the new tour, Julie Izon-Williams, who is co-organising The Wicker Man festivities said:
“I have visited and photographed many of the locations seen in The Wicker Man. When I first set eyes on the Old Kirk and Schoolhouse at Anwoth, it took my breath away. A little pocket of history engulfed by peace and quiet. I thank the organisers from Mostly Ghostly for arranging the additional 29th April tour. This will enable Wicker Man fans and locals who will be attending the burning of the Wicker Man at Burrowhead on 1st May, the opportunity of attending the Anwoth tour.”
Summing up, Kathleen said:
“There are stories all around us and Anwoth is a source of many, both historical and contemporary, that we aim to share with sensitivity and respect. We are passionate about encouraging visitors and local people to experience all that Dumfries and Galloway has to offer, and by presenting these unique tales, personal accounts and Wicker Man-related lore, we hope to generate more interest in Anwoth, inspiring guests to see it from a different perspective.”